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Pat Kelsey backs out last minute, will not be UMass basketball head coach

03.23.17 at 6:48 pm ET
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Pat Kelsey is the new basketball coach at UMass. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass coaching job after all. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team was set to usher in its next head basketball coach Thursday afternoon at the John Francis Kennedy Champions Center after the team announced Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey would be replacing former coach Derek Kellogg Tuesday.

As media and fans gathered in the Champions Center, it was then relayed by a UMass spokesperson that the press conference had been cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances.” Moments later ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Kelsey had a change of heart and in a most bizarre twist, would not be the team’s next coach.

”For personal reasons, I have asked the University of Massachusetts to allow me to be released from the offer I accepted to be the head men’s basketball coach,” Kelsey said in a statement the team released. “To be clear, this decision is entirely personal and in no way an assessment of the commitment UMass made to me personally or to the resources available at UMass to have a nationally-recognized program. I apologize to Chancellor Subbaswamy, Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford, members of the basketball program and the UMass community who embraced my appointment this week and made me feel welcome since arriving on campus yesterday.”

Kelsey had been on campus in Amherst the previous two days taking photos and meeting with the current Minutemen basketball team and other athletic coaches at the university, including Thursday in anticipation for the afternoon presser. He then called Bamford at 3:25, just a half hour prior to his scheduled press conference, to inform him of his request to be released from the university.

“After speaking with Pat about his decision, I honored his request and we are now working through how this impacts our executed Memorandum of Understanding,” Bamford said. “In my conversation with Pat, he made it clear that his reasons were very personal and upon his request, I will honor our confidential conversation. Pat stressed that his decision was not based on the University of Massachusetts or our basketball program. Again, his reasons were personal in nature. I know that the unforeseen circumstances surrounding his decision were not in our control. At this time, we will resume our search for the next leader of our program. I am confident that we will hire a remarkable coach who will return our program to national prominence.”

The search for UMass’ next coach now resumes, with rumored candidates Micah Shrewsberry and Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley serious contenders for the position.

As for Kelsey, Bamford said it was his indication in their meeting that he would be heading back Winthrop, however he could not confirm.

“This was on me,” Bamford told the media early Thursday evening. “As the leader of this organization, this is on me. I take this personally. Finding our next head coach is personal to me because I owe it to the department and our student-athletes to find somebody great.”

“This is a great job and this is a great university,” he added. “We are a top public research university. This is a wonderful athletic department and this is an unbelievable community. We’re going to go find somebody who wants to come here and return us to prominence. There’s no doubt in my mind. This is a road bump for us.”

UMass hires Pat Kelsey as new basketball coach

03.21.17 at 6:50 pm ET
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Pat Kelsey is the new basketball coach at UMass. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Pat Kelsey is the new basketball coach at UMass. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Massachusetts Director of Athletics Ryan Bamford got his man.

After firing UMass men’s head basketball coach Derek Kellogg following the Minutemen’s (15-18, 4-14 Atlantic 10) second-round exit in the A-10 tournament, UMass hired Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey to become the school’s 22nd head basketball coach Tuesday afternoon.

“I am thrilled to welcome Pat Kelsey and his family to the University of Massachusetts,” Bamford said in the team’s press release. “Pat has been an important piece of some highly-successful programs throughout his career, including the last five years leading the basketball program at Winthrop University. Coach Kelsey has a detailed plan for every phase of our program and a passionate work ethic providing fuel to reach our goals of building a championship-caliber program.”

Kelsey spent the previous five years at the helm of the Eagles, compiling a 102-59 record (.634 winning percentage). Winthrop was the 2016-17 Big South regular season and conference tournament champions with a 26-7 record (15-3 in conference) before losing to Butler in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Kelsey’s lone trip to the big dance.

The Eagles won the Big South regular season championship twice in Kelsey’s tenure. He spent two seasons as an associate coach of his alma mater Xavier and eight years as an assistant at Wake Forest before becoming the Winthrop coach.

“Lisa and I are thrilled to be joining the UMass family and the Amherst community,” Kelsey said in the release. “UMass is a national college basketball brand with a proud, powerful tradition. As a player in the A-10, I saw first hand what the potential is there. I look forward to the challenge of making UMass a major factor on the national level once again.”

The news broke after rumors were swirling about a potential job for Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported early Tuesday morning Shrewsberry emerged as a “serious” contender to become the Minutmen’s next head coach after having met with school officials earlier this month, with a second interview on the docket.

The Boston Herald’s Rich Thompson reported early Tuesday afternoon via Steve Bulpett’s Twitter account that Shrewsberry was in fact out of the running to be the team’s next head coach, and was no longer on Bamford’s short list before ESPN’s Jeff Goodman initially reported the team hired Kelsey Tuesday afternoon.

Kelsey will take over for Kellogg after the Springfield, Mass. native spent nine seasons in Amherst, posting a 155-137 record (.531 winning percentage) with one trip to the NCAA tournament in 2013. The Minutemen lost 15 of its final 20 games this season after starting the year 10-3 with a nationally-rated recruiting class.

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Bruins prospect Ryan Donato scores twice as Harvard captures 2nd ECAC title in 3 years

03.18.17 at 11:18 pm ET
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Harvard will enter the NCAA tournament as the hottest team in the country. The last time the Crimson lost, Barack Obama was still president.

On Saturday night, the Crimson crushed Cornell, 4-1, to capture their second ECAC tournament title in the last three years and improve to 15-0-1 over their last 16 games. Harvard will be a one-seed in the NCAA tournament and head to either Manchester or Providence next weekend. The selection show is Sunday at noon.

Bruins prospect Ryan Donato, the team’s leading goal-scorer this season, led the way Saturday night. He opened the scoring on a power-play goal with 5:19 left in the first, then scored on the man advantage again midway through the third to make it 4-0.

Between those two goals, Luke Esposito and Michael Floodstrand also scored. Cornell’s lone goal came with 1:17 left in the game, long after the game had been decided.

Valuable senior experience helps UMass Lowell capture Hockey East title

03.18.17 at 11:00 pm ET
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When a team has played in this game as often as UMass Lowell has, it has something a lot of other teams might not: experience. For the senior group on the River Hawks, that rings true. Lowell has been in the last five Hockey East championship games, and the senior class has now won two of them following a 4-2 victory over Boston College on Saturday night.

That senior class that has been a part of all four contests is small, with just three players. Joe Gambardella has seen four of these games, and he scored in the latest edition, netting the dagger with 8:23 left in the second period to extend the River Hawk lead to 4-2.

“It’s always nice when you have experience, things you can learn from, and they’re not always negative,” said the senior center. “From day one we were ready to execute.”

Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla, seniors on the top defense pair, have also been a part of four title contests. Both Kapla, a captain, and Zink produced 25 assists this season for one of the more dynamic pairings in the nation. Kapla, named to the Hockey East all-tournament team,  made his mark on the championship game with an assist on Saturday night, coming on Gambardella’s 18th tally of the season.

“As good as Joseph Gambardella is up front, Michael Kapla is that on defense,” said head coach Norm Bazin. “He’s the anchor, he’s the pillar back there. Dylan [Zink] gets a lot of notoriety for his offensive game, Kapla is a good combination of defense and offense. He’s going to play for a long time after college.”

That defense pair also helped freshman goalie Tyler Wall keep the puck out of the net late in the game when the Eagles outshot Lowell 15-2 in the final frame.

Gambardella also assisted on John Edwardh’s goal, the go-ahead for the River Hawks in the second period. The forward was also named to the all-tournament team.

“He’s certainly developed over four years, he’s a substance player,” said Bazin. “Aesthetically he might not look perfect but he produces. He’s always a plus player, he’s a glue guy in the locker room and a captain.”

Bazin has seen the River Hawks in this title game for five of his six years since taking over as head coach in 2011. The 2016-2017 Hockey East Coach of the Year has been able to lead Lowell past traditional Hockey East powerhouses Boston University and Boston College to be the mainstay at the top of the conference.

It’s the first time a Hockey East team has gone to five straight title games since Maine went to seven straight from 1987-93, and the dynasty has a lot to do with the recruits Bazin has brought, and he’s in the conversation as one of the best coaches nationally. The River Hawks weren’t on the map as a contender as much as they have been in the past half decade under Bazin, and the veteran leadership from the current senior class has been the core.

“We just commit to the process,” said Gambardella. “Every day is a new day, and everyone comes to the rink everyday wanting to be better. We choose to get 1 percent better every day or 1 percent worse, and I think we’ve been going in the right direction since day one.”

Lowell hangs on to beat BC and capture 3rd Hockey East championship in 5 years

03.18.17 at 9:41 pm ET
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UMass Lowell captured its third Hockey East title in the last five years Saturday night. (

UMass Lowell captured its third Hockey East title in the last five years Saturday night. (

UMass Lowell is back on top of Hockey East. After coming up short in the conference title game each of the previous two seasons, the River Hawks captured their third Hockey East championship in the last five years Saturday night at TD Garden with a 4-3 win over Boston College.

The victory serves as the exclamation point on a remarkable run for a program that was nearly cut just 10 years ago. Since Lowell alum Norm Bazin took over behind the bench in 2011, the River Hawks have made five Hockey East championship games after only reaching two prior to that, they’ve won two regular-season titles after never having won that before, and they reached their first-ever Frozen Four in 2013. Now they’ve won three Hockey East tournaments after never having won it before, and they’re heading to their fifth NCAA tournament in six years after making it just three times pre-Bazin.

Saturday’s championship game looked like it had a chance to be a barn-burner at the first intermission, as Lowell and BC were tied 2-2 after an exciting opening frame. But the River Hawks had other ideas. They took control starting around the middle of the second period, got a two-goal lead before the intermission, and held on to the finish line despite BC’s desperate comeback bid in the third.

After failing to convert on their first two power plays, while also allowing a shorthanded goal, the River Hawks capitalized on their third man advantage at the 10:05 mark of the middle period when John Edwardh followed up a Joe Gambardella shot and flipped the rebound past BC goalie Joseph Woll.

Then Lowell struck again just a minute and a half later when Gambardella settled a puck in the left circle and beat Woll short-side over the shoulder. The Eagles played desperate in the third, as they obviously needed to, and registered 12 of the period’s first 14 shots on goal.

Freshman goalie Tyler Wall made some big saves to maintain the lead (and finished with 38 saves in the game), but BC finally broke through with 2:45 to go when Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald whacked a puck through his legs from the right side of the net that banked off Wall and in.

The Eagles nearly tied the game with 40 seconds to go when Fitzgerald ripped a shot from the point that hit the crossbar and stayed out. That close. But instead of forcing overtime, the Eagles saw their season come to an end, as they are not high enough in the Pairwise rankings to make the NCAA tournament.

Lowell opened the scoring just 1:06 into the game when C.J. Smith collected a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, skated in and sniped the top corner. The River Hawks got a chance to extend the lead a minute later when they went to the power play. They got some good looks and just missed on a couple cross-slot passes that wouldn’t settle, but they couldn’t find a goal.

A minute after Lowell’s man advantage ended, the Eagles went to the power play, and they took advantage just 10 seconds into it when Austin Cangelosi tipped in JD Dudek’s shot from the left point.

The River Hawks started to take a little bit of control through the middle part of the period and nearly made it 2-1 when Michael Kapla rang a shot off the post. They continue to pressure and then did retake the lead at the 12:06 mark when Smith set up Chris Forney for a shot from the point that beat Woll through heavy traffic.

The Eagles had a great chance to tie the game a few minutes later when they ended up with a 5-on-3 for 1:39. They got a couple decent looks, but Lowell managed to get the kill. Then the River Hawks got a power play almost immediately after, and it felt like a major momentum swing was right around the corner.

Instead, things swung in the other direction. BC freshman forward Graham McPhee made a terrific play to poke the puck away from Smith on a breakout, then raced in on a breakaway and beat Tyler Wall on the backhand. It was just the second goal of the season for McPhee, and it was the Eagles’ 11th shorthanded tally of the season, tying them with Harvard for first in the country.

The River Hawks didn’t let the game get away, though. They regrouped at the first intermission and stifled BC in the second while scoring twice themselves. Lowell now waits to find out if it will be a one- or two-seed in the NCAA tournament. That will be decided by other results around the country Saturday night.

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Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald helps BC survive another night

03.18.17 at 12:36 am ET
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Boston College hadn’t been able to beat Boston University all season, never having a single lead on the Terriers in their previous three contests. It’s a far cry from what the Eagles usually are able to do against their rival, as they hadn’t been swept in a season series in 15 years.

The Eagles made up for the previous three losses with a victory in the game that mattered most, and kept their season alive with a 3-2 win on Friday night in the Hockey East semifinals. The victory means BC still has a chance to play in the national tournament.

Without winning Hockey East, the Eagles have slim odds of getting to the NCAA tournament. They’ll face the River Hawks of UMass Lowell for the conference crown Saturday night.

The star for BC Friday night against BU was senior forward and Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald. The North Reading native scored twice, including a shorthanded goal in the second period and what proved to be the game-winner early in the third. It was a welcome offensive outburst considering Fitzgerald’s goal production had dropped from 24 last season to nine entering Friday’s game.

“He’s had a good year for us,” BC coach Jerry York said. “Goal production down, but mostly because of crossbars, pipes, not lack of effort. His game’s never suffered because of the goals not coming easy. He’s forechecking well, good coverage defensively, I’m really proud of how he played on the big stage tonight.”

The center found himself involved in a postgame scrum following the final faceoff when he fell on the puck, running the clock down, and a brawl followed, leading to punches between his brother Casey Fitzgerald and BU’s Brandon Hickey.

“A little bit of a broken play and just so happened I ended up on the ice,” said Fitzgerlad. “I just hovered over it and tried to protect it for as long as possible.”

Fitzgerald extended the lead twice following BU chances, burying the Terriers before they had a chance to cut into the deficit. Fitzgerald’s first goal was shorthanded, ending any chance for BU to gain momentum by tying the game on the power play.

Scott Savage, who assisted on the first tally of the game from Julius Mattila, is another senior who got on the board to keep the season alive. Fellow seniors Austin Cangelosi and Chris Calnan also extend their careers for at least one day.

Fitzgerald, who played high school hockey at Malden Catholic, will have another opportunity to keep his collegiate campaign going Saturday night before joining the pro ranks in the Bruins organization. Despite his struggles at times this season, Fitzgerald bounced back when the Eagles needed it most.

“Anytime you can produce for your team it’s good,” said the senior. “Reflecting on the year, for me it’s one of those things where you notice the puck not going in as frequently as it has been, you need to do something else. Playing center now I’ve taken a bigger role in the D zone. If you’re not scoring, you need to do something else.”

BC hangs on to beat BU, advance to Hockey East championship game, keep NCAA hopes alive

03.17.17 at 10:59 pm ET
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Boston College survived Boston University's late comeback push Friday night. (

Boston College survived Boston University’s late comeback push Friday night. (

Boston University made things interesting in the end, but ultimately Boston College’s dominance for most of the game was enough to lift the Eagles over their rivals and send them to the Hockey East championship game for the first time since 2012.

Propelled by a dominant second period, the Eagles escaped with a 3-2 victory to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. They’ll take on UMass Lowell, who stormed past Notre Dame in Friday’s first semifinal, Saturday night at 7 p.m. at TD Garden.

BC and BU were tied 0-0 after one, but the Eagles took a 1-0 lead 1:58 into the second on a seemingly benign play. Freshman forward Julius Mattila led a rush down the right wing and snapped off a shot from just inside the blue line that managed to beat Jake Oettinger glove-side. The shot may have deflected off BU defenseman Brandon Hickey’s stick, which could explain the usually-stellar Oettinger getting beat by it.

After that goal, BC took complete control of the game as BU seemingly fell asleep. The Eagles had a 12-2 shots on goal advantage through the first 12 minutes of the period and eventually built that up to a 17-5 edge as they pinned the Terriers in their own end pretty much all period. BU ran into all kinds of problems trying to break the puck out, as BC took away every opening and forced the Terriers to attempt desperate, low-percentage passes.

The Terriers got what could’ve been the break they needed when they went to the power play with 7:21 left in the period, but that turned out to be a disaster too. Christopher Brown beat Chad Krys to a loose puck and sent Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald in 1-on-1 against fellow Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy. Fitzgerald used McAvoy as a screen and beat Oettinger to make it 2-0.

The Eagles made it 3-0 in the first minute of the third when they took advantage of a BU defensive-zone turnover, with Brown once against setting up Fitzgerald. It looked like they’d be able to cruise to the finish line, but the Terriers, it turned out, did have some fight in them.

Jordan Greenway scored with 2:24 to go when he snuck a puck past Joseph Woll on a jam attempt, then Clayton Keller found the back of the net 1:02 later to cut BC’s lead to 3-2 with 1:22 to go. BU continued to pressure in the final minute and got off a couple shots on goal, but Woll stood tall and the Eagles survived.

There was a pretty good brawl at the final buzzer, with BU’s Hickey getting his helmet ripped off followed by him throwing a punch or two, so it will be worth keeping an eye on any potential discipline.

The game got off to a frantic start, with the two teams combining for 11 shots on goal in just over five minutes and each side ringing the post once on top of that. Keller went first, racing in shorthanded after a nice steal before pulling up and hitting pipe. Less than a minute later, Matthew Gaudreau set up Brown for a nice chance in the slot, but Brown likewise found nothing but iron.

Things slowed down a little after the early back-and-forth chances, but a key stretch came late in the period when BU got back-to-back power plays, including a 23-second 5-on-3 advantage. The Terriers got a few shots on goal, but they came from the outside and BC did a good job clearing rebounds and getting the kill.

It sounds weird to even suggest that Boston College getting to the Hockey East championship game was improbable, especially considering that the Eagles earned a share of the league’s regular-season title. But just a couple weeks ago, few people would’ve predicted that BC would be here.

The Eagles limped to an 0-5-2 record to close out the regular season, watching sole possession of first place and an at-large NCAA tournament bid slip away in the process. It looked like they’d be fortunate just to get by Vermont in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

The Eagles not only got by Vermont; they demolished the Catamounts. They won 7-0 in Game 1 and 7-4 in Game 2. Still, they remained the clear underdogs against archrival Boston University in the semifinals. The Terriers had already beaten BC three times this season and had surrendered just two goals in those contests. And yet, the Eagles triumphed again. Perhaps they’ve figured things out just in time.

The Terriers are still a lock to make the NCAA tournament despite Friday’s loss, while BC will need to beat Lowell Saturday night to make it. The Eagles are looking for their first Hockey East championship since 2012 and trying to avoid missing NCAAs for the first time since 2009.

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Young River Hawks lead Lowell back to Hockey East title game

03.17.17 at 8:14 pm ET
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The River Hawks had a tough task ahead with the loss of a large senior class, including goalie Kevin Boyle, heading into the 2016-17 season. After falling in the Hockey East championship game to Northeastern last season, it seemed it would be difficult to return to a similar spot while having to rely on freshmen.

Yet, that’s exactly where the River Hawks are, heading back to the conference title game with a 5-1 dismantling of Notre Dame in the semifinals on Friday night, led by that freshman group that also helped them top New Hampshire the week before.

One full line of freshmen — listed on the line chart as the fourth line, but in reality closer to the second or third line — has emerged over the last few weeks, especially against UNH and Notre Dame. Norm Bazin, fresh off Hockey East Coach of the Year honors, kept that group of Ryan Lohin, Colin O’Neill and Kenny Hausinger together on Friday night, and it paid dividends in the victory.

“I laugh when you say fourth line, because he’s quite a player,” Bazin said when asked about Lohin. “I’m not sure who is our fourth line, it depends on the night. He’s good away from the puck, he’s good at faceoffs, he’s excellent as far as scrums and he’s got a good stick. So it’s a good combination, he’s also on the first unit penalty kill, which is a big statement for a freshman.”

With two goals in the first period, the all-freshman line not only gave the River Hawks the advantage, but they helped Lowell rebound from what could have been a deflating first tally for the Irish. Jack Jenkins, a sophomore forward, scored from center ice, slipping the puck past freshman goalie Tyler Wall to open the scoring early in the first.

Wall went on to make 19 saves in the game, facing 14 shots in the second period and turning them all aside.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said senior Joe Gambardella of how Wall responded. “He’s been a great goaltender for us all year long. That’s the way the game of hockey works, sometimes you get some unfortunate bounces. He did a really good job of being calm and collected in the net.”

It took 25 seconds for the River Hawks, and Wall’s classmate O’Neill, to respond. Later on in the period, Lohin was able to push the puck past Cal Petersen to take the first Lowell lead of the night.

“I think the leadership, Joe [Gambardella] and the others, they’ve done a good job with us,” said Lohin. “Keeping us calm, helping us know what to expect day in and day out.”

Lohin was able to cycle down low the entire game and create traffic around Petersen, which directly led to two of the River Hawks’ goals.

“I think any time you play with a good goaltender on the other side you want to get traffic,” said Lohin. “It’s going to be tough to beat on a straight shot. I wanted to get in front and create chaos out front. I think we did a good job of that, we’ll have to do that again tomorrow night regardless of who we face.”

Hausinger, the third member of that all-freshman line, assisted on the River Hawks’ fourth goal of the night, with 1:08 left in the second period as he connected with senior defender Michael Kapla to extend a 4-1 lead.

It’s not the first stellar performance from the first-year group, as they combined for four goals in an 8-2 Game 3 victory over New Hampshire to advance to the Hockey East semifinals last Sunday.

Nick Marin, another freshman, scored the fifth River Hawk goal of the night early in the third period. It was the second goal of the season for the Shrewsbury native.

Lohin, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, had 23 points in the regular season. Hausinger had 16 and O’Neill had seven, including just two goals.

“It’s awesome anytime anyone contributes,” said Gambardella. “At this point in the season, we don’t consider any freshmen to be freshmen. They’ve done a good job leading their class, basically being sophomores at this point. They’ve done really well all season, we couldn’t be any happier.”

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UMass Lowell crushes Notre Dame to advance to fifth straight Hockey East championship game

03.17.17 at 7:22 pm ET
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UMass Lowell is heading to the Hockey East championship game for the fifth year in a row. (

UMass Lowell is heading to the Hockey East championship game for the fifth year in a row. (

The middle of March is a time for traditions, like filling out your bracket, drinking green beer and watching UMass Lowell win at TD Garden. For the fifth straight year, Norm Bazin got his River Hawks to the Garden. And for the fifth straight year, they dispensed of their Friday night semifinal opponent to advance to the championship game, this time knocking off Notre Dame, 5-1.

The River Hawks fell behind on an early fluke goal from center ice, but that was pretty much the only time the result was in question. Lowell scored twice over the next couple minutes to take the lead and twice more in the second period to put the game well out of reach with a full period to go.

The River Hawks now await the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal between Boston University and Boston College. With the win, Lowell became the first team to reach five straight Hockey East championship games since Maine went to seven straight from 1987-1993.

To help put that in perspective, note that Lowell had reached the Hockey East title game just twice before Bazin took over in 2011. The River Hawks captured back-to-back titles with wins over BU and New Hampshire in 2013 and 2014, respectively, then lost to BU in 2015 and Northeastern last year.

“The guys like playing here, there’s no question,” Bazin said after the game. “It’s an exciting time of year to be playing hockey. It shows the stability, it shows the consistency within the program, the culture of accountability. The guys were itching to come back this year.

“This year was probably the most brutal in terms of regular season, so it was very difficult to get here. So we’re thrilled we’re here, but we’ve been on both sides of this. We’ve lost two championship games, we’ve won two. We’d like to be on the side of that 2013-14.”

Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead seven minutes into the game on a classic St. Patrick’s Day luck o’ the Irish play. Dennis Gilbert fired a pass toward Jack Jenkins at center ice and Jenkins redirected it toward the Lowell goal. It was a completely unremarkable play you see a dozen times a game, right up until the moment it took a tough bounce in front of River Hawks goalie Tyler Wall and skipped past him into the net.

The River Hawks had their goalie’s back, though, and answered immediately. Just 25 seconds after falling behind, freshman Kenny Hausinger set up classmate and linemate Colin O’Neill in the high slot for a one-timer that beat Cal Petersen.

Then the River Hawks took over for the remainder of the period. They grabbed the lead two minutes later when Ryan Lohin, the third member of Lowell’s all-freshman line with Hausinger and O’Neill, dug out a rebound off Mattias Goransson’s point shot and flipped it in. The Irish mustered just nine shot attempts and three shots on goal the whole period, with one of those shots on goal coming on the center-ice goal and two others coming from the blue line (final shots on goal in the game were 40-20 in Lowell’s favor).

Lowell isn’t exactly known for landing blue-chip freshmen, but that all-rookie line has gotten hot at the perfect time. In addition to its big first period Friday night, that trio combined for four goals and three assists in last Sunday’s Game 3 win over New Hampshire that sent the River Hawks to the Garden, with O’Neill and Hausinger each scoring twice. And oh by the way, Goransson, who has emerged as a solid top-four defenseman, is also a freshman.

In the second period, it was time for Lowell’s top line to chip in. Early in the period, C.J. Smith led a rush into the offensive zone and dished over to Joe Gambardella, who then took the puck behind the net before getting it back to Smith in front for the finish. It was Smith’s team-leading 21st goal of the season and Gambardella’s team-leading 49th point.

The nail in the coffin came with 1:08 left in the second when Hausinger set up a pinching Michael Kapla to make it 4-1. Nick Marin, another freshman, scored early in the third as the River Hawks piled on. Regardless of what happens in Saturday night’s championship game, Lowell will also be heading to the NCAA tournament in a week.

Friday’s loss marked the final Hockey East tournament game for the Irish, who are leaving for the Big Ten after four seasons here. Notre Dame’s season probably isn’t over, though, as it will almost certainly get an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. has the Irish with a 94 percent chance of getting in despite losing Friday.

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USC overcomes 17-point deficit to beat Providence in First Four

03.16.17 at 7:40 am ET
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Providence fell in the First Four Wednesday night. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Providence fell in the First Four Wednesday night. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

To spin a phrase once written so capably by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

And that literally is what Providence is left with after losing a 17-point second half lead to Southern Cal in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio Wednesday night. The Friars, in as sharp a half as they played all season, led the Trojans by 15 points at halftime, and by 17 early in the second period.

They ended up losing, 75-71, to end the season at 20-13. USC (25-9) advances to Tulsa, Oklahoma to face 6th seeded SMU Friday afternoon.

“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

Dickens’ chosen word of foolishness might not describe the second half of play for the Friars, but whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. After torching the Trojans’ defense for 44 points and 55% field goal shooting in the first half, PC suddenly lost its aggressiveness on the offensive end as USC switched from a zone to man-to-man.

Additionally, the bigger Trojans pounded the Friars on the backboards, with a 21-9 rebound margin in the final 20 minutes. Included in that total were nine huge offensive rebounds, and the extra chances – not to mention the extra time off the clock – proved the Friars’ undoing.

“I think the second half we just didn’t play,” said Ed Cooley afterward, understating what was painfully obvious to the Friar Faithful. “I thought they played harder than us in the second half. I thought they were tougher. I think some of our early miscues (in the second half) gave them some energy and I just didn’t think we were tough.”

“We weren’t playing with the same passion we were in the first half, and it showed,” Jalen Lindsey added, after scoring 17 points for the Friars. “And they executed their game plan and we kind of faltered back.”

“We got into the paint a lot,” said USC guard Jordan McLaughlin, whose penetration into the Friar zone was a key to the comeback. “Once we got into the paint, everybody’s playing on two feet and making the right passes and right decisions. We were making the layups and knocking down jump shots.”

“We started switching one through four,” was coach Andy Enfield’s explanation for the turnaround. “Then we went big. And we played big for at least 10, 12 minutes of the game. We haven’t done that all season. For our players to adjust to that, that was impressive.”

Indeed, it was. Trailing 44-29 at the half, Enfield sent in his larger unit (three players 6-10 or taller) after PC extended the lead to 17 in the opening minute of the second period. The play of 6-11 freshman forward Nick
Rakocevic was a big part of the comeback, scoring seven of his nine points in the paint, and his physical play helped spark a huge 25-10 Trojan run over an 8:27 span.

The Friars never recovered, and never led again after giving the lead away. The comeback from 17 points down is the 7th greatest comeback in NCAA tournament history. That USC led the nation this season in making up double-digit deficits (with 12 wins after trailing by 10 points or more) wasn’t lost on Ed Cooley or his team.

“I just didn’t think as a group we were fundamentally sound the last 20 minutes in order to advance in this tournament,” Cooley reasoned. “Those kids are hurting in there (in the locker room). I’m proud of our group this season. I think we had a year no one expected.”

Certainly, no one expected the way the game ended. Not after a stunning first half by Providence, and an equally stunning fall in the second half.

Perhaps the best way to describe it – it was a tale of two halves? It wasn’t exactly the best of times for the Friars, to be sure.

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